It would be naive to think of this year's World Series as simply a competition between the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves for the world championship, for there's so much more at stake than simply that.
For baseball, this year's Series, which commences tomorrow night (Channel 45, 7: 30 p.m.), will be a chance to regain some of the emotional hold the game has historically had on the sporting public.
For Fox, the televising network, the Series will be its biggest chance to date -- the Stanley Cup notwithstanding -- to forge its image as a major sports player on the American consciousness.
The biggest challenge for the game and for Fox will be to top a 16.7 rating for the Series. That's the rating for this year's NBA Finals between Chicago and Seattle, and baseball's ability to beat that number, something the World Series has done all but once, will tell the sporting public and, more importantly, the advertising community, a lot of interesting things.
The perception among many, especially the young, is that the NBA is the place to be, with its glamour athletes and fan-friendly attitude, while baseball has been losing fans, weakened in recent years by strikes, labor strife and less than savory player behavior.
Last year's World Series rating of 19.5 was up from 1993, but the last three Series ratings are off from, say, the 1991 Series between Minnesota and Atlanta, which got a solid 24.0. Meanwhile, the NBA's regular-season ratings rose last year, and the Finals number was 20 percent higher than the year before.
Fox bought five years' worth of regular-season and playoff baseball rights, as well as three World Series and two All-Star Games, for $575 million, and has aggressively marketed baseball in a manner never before seen by a national telecaster. This week will be where those efforts would pay off.
The network has apparently sold all of its available commercial spots for the first five games for around $250,000 for 30 seconds, and will use the Series and an audience that is larger than what the network normally gets to heavily promote its fall schedule.
Fox also caught a huge break when the Yankees, from the nation's largest market, made it to the Series rather than the Orioles, and don't think network officials aren't gleeful.
Still, although Fox has clearly positioned itself as a younger, hipper alternative to the more established ABC, CBS and NBC, the network suffers in many markets from appearing on less popular UHF stations. In Baltimore, for example, Channel 45's NFL ratings for the more popular NFC package have historically lagged behind Channel 11's AFC coverage, even before the Ravens came to town.
And the other networks are certainly going to counter-program against the World Series. NBC will rest "Seinfeld" Thursday during Game 5, but all of its other popular shows will air, even if in reruns.
As for the coverage itself, Fox producer John Filippelli plans a couple of interesting new technological wrinkles, including a lipstick-sized camera placed on bullpen catchers to give the viewer a sense of how hard relief pitchers are throwing.
Fox will also use a new videotape machine that records and edits simultaneously, permitting the viewer, for instance, to see an entire pitching sequence seconds after it happens. Filippelli said the network will also place microphones within the bases and hopes to get them on the managers as well.
"We want to be able to give you the sights and sounds and to take you places that you've never been before," said Filippelli, a four-time Emmy winner.
Joe Buck, Tim McCarver and Bob Brenly will call the action from the booth for Fox, with Chip Caray, Dave Winfield and Steve Lyons working the pre-game show. On the radio side, WBAL (1090 AM) will air CBS Radio's coverage, with Vin Scully, Jeff Torborg and John Rooney on the call.
Heading for Bristol?
An ESPN spokeswoman said yesterday that the network has had talks with Pam Ward, WBAL's morning sports anchor, about her joining ESPNEWS, the all-sports news network that is scheduled to launch Nov. 1.
The spokeswoman said a deal has not been completed, but characterized the talks as "positive." Reached yesterday for comment, Ward, who joined WBAL in March 1995, confirmed that she is talking to the network, but has not signed a contract.
Pub Date: 10/18/96